Barnum in Central Park
(Photos by Bald Punk – Central Park W & 72nd St)
I could retrace my steps to the morning and point out little signs that indicated something otherworldly lay in my path. Not that what ensued was earth-shattering. I had another encounter with a ghost. Yet it’s interesting to note how sometimes when I have such a meeting, I find that I’m at crossroads. I’m at a window between real and fantastical, a point where it’s possible to slip away forever.
So–all day I was aware that I was headed for such a crossroad. Indistinct flashes and barely perceivable sounds were the auguries.
I had to go out on two estimates in Brooklyn for my job. I was back in Manhattan by half past three, riding on the 4 Train. I jumped off at Union Square and headed uptown on foot. In need of some exercise, I thought I also could emulate John Adams and his son, Quincy. They would walk five miles a day for exercise.
I like to walk real fast, and think what I do could be considered a stalking walk.
I headed up 5th Avenue, where the buildings were already submerged in gloaming shadows. Soon after I realized something was amiss. The color didn’t quite fit with the overcast skies. It was bluer than it should have been.
Sometimes the night in NYC can be old world spooky. It brings to mind what it must have looked like in the gaslight era. The twilight hinted that such a night would follow.
The temperature hovered below the freezing mark all day, and with the coming dark, it quickly fell into the twenties. The wind blew hard, whipping up dust and dirt.
More and more I heard whispers and noise shots, none of which I could place.
I should have scooted down into the subway and went right home. That was the safe choice. Instead, I stalked on–heading right for the heart and soul of otherworldly NYC—
I passed The Plaza Hotel and went into Central Park.
(The Plaza Hotel)
The gloaming hour was at its gloomiest. (When my lady friend reads this, she will do some major head shaking. I’m supposed to steer clear of Central Park at twilight.)
I was in the southeast corner, called Grand Army Plaza. It’s not to be confused with the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, which is the main entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Still pounding the pavement, I took the main road that curves around an “irregular” shaped pond called The Pond. The black surface rippled and reflected shimmering lights.
(Central Park – The Pond)
Given the wind and cold, I was a little surprised to see so many people strolling about. But something was in the air.
In addition to the usual types, there were more joggers than normal, and a smattering of tourists, which most times bring a smile to my face. It’s great to see someone possibly experiencing NYC for the first time—especially in such enchanted place and time like Central Park at twilight.
I was enjoying a wonderful vibe and took in the stately buildings that rise up past the jagged line of treetops.
A horse and carriage snuck up alongside me. I didn’t hear the clop of hooves or the cartwheels rolling over the pavement until a moment before I turned.
The driver had on a stove pipe hat, the brim of which cast a swath of darkness across his down-turned head.
Yet I recognized the hat and the skinny body. Slowing my pace, I raised a fist and cried, “You’re the guy who stole my f—king dog!”
He pulled the horse to a stop and smiled amiably. “My name is Felix,” he said. “I’m sorry I was so rude, and didn’t properly introduce myself the last time we met.”
I stepped away from the carriage. A group of young Asians took photos of the carriage. Felix turned sideways on the seat, and tipped his hat to their flashing cameras. He turned back to me. “Please, step up inside.”
I edged forward and leaned over for a look inside the canopy-covered carriage. The person in the back bench-seat was bundled in a blanket. I stared for a full ten seconds, until in a manner I can’t explain, the blankets fell away to reveal an apparition. It was of a man dressed in a fine suit of clothes. The most striking articles were a velvet vest and a collared-shirt that had stark white ruffles.
“You’re . . . you’re the guy who sent him to steal my f—king dog!” I cried, having a tough time saying his name, which was “P.T. Barnum.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Barnum said, moving his face past the shadows and into the low light. The bottom of his nose was shaped like three cloves of garlic. His face was remarkably flat and squarish. Bald at the crown, his hair was straggly, unkempt, and fell below his ears.
(Barnum & Tom Thumb)
“It’s not like I operate in the place of the living,” Barnum said with a ring of sadness. “I haven’t for quite some time.” He gave a closed mouth smile that was both affable and pained. “You see, I’m not the person you think I am.” He patted the seat next to him. “Please, sit with me. Let us talk.”
My instincts told me that he could be trusted.
“That’s why I came to you,” he continued, “because I am so very misunderstood. My legacy is not what it should be.”
I made a face like I tasted something sour. Now don’t go crazy as to why I did that–not that you would.
For the life of me, I couldn’t think what to say as I wondered, Why does this old circus nut think I can help him?
He patted the seat again. A bunch of teens nearby broke out into laughter. They sounded wild and unrestrained, like the hour.
I stepped up into the carriage and sat next to P. T. Barnum. He smelled like chocolate winter mints.
To be continued . . .
Here are the posts in this series: Episode Twenty-Four – December 2009/January 2010